Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May 15 - Kahiltna Base Camp, 10:31pm

Today's plan was to climb the Radio Control Tower, a stunning ~8500 foot spire of snow-jeweled rock adjacent to our climb route yesterday, but we woke to near-whiteout conditions with about a foot of fresh snow on the ground.

All night we could hear huge avalanches roaring down Mt. Hunter across the glacier, and from the towering steeples and spires of Mt. Foraker that looms across the valley. Just before bed last night, in fact, it was still clear out, and we were all hobnobbing outside our tents as my tentmate Denis spotted--and then we all heard a big slide avalanche racing down Mt Hunter's imposing north buttress that towers majestically across the glacier from us.

It was so close, the booming thunder of it took center stage for a few minutes as we all gaped in awe at the sheer size of the blooming snow cloud that spread out, reaching its cold tendrils toward us and blossoming before our eyes into a gargantuan, boiling airborne sea of white water. Utterly spectacular--and even a little scary as they continued to crash menacingly throughout the night. But I digress...

Conditions today were miserable enough for climbing that we instead voted to do a morning of skills training and see what the weather held for us later in the afternoon. (The weather got only only slightly better by late afternoon, but by then, it was too late to undertake the 6-hour roundtrip to the Control Tower anyway).

We gathered in the posh house after breakfast with snow still falling outside and the wind kicking up spindrift as we learned a bunch of knots and hitches and discussed their various purposes. Interestingly, no bowline, but we did the butterfly, the double fisherman for prusik and other uses, clove hitches, Munter hitches, figure 8, figure 8 on a bight, figure 9, a few overhand variants, and the like. Much discussion and demonstration, along with scenarios and practice followed. That was led by Jason, and after that, Mike took us outside to teach us about anchors and their importance. We learned a lot, including the various types, their strengths and weaknesses, uses for each, and more scenarios for setting and equalizing multiple anchor setups.

After a lunch break, we dove headlong into "crack rescue"--crevasse rescue training--led by the insanely knowledgeable Tyler, and for the next few hours, we walked step by step through two methods for extracting a member of your rope team from a crevasse they might have fallen into for whatever reason (and there were TONS of those haha). Fascinating and complex stuff that involves levers, fulcrums, gearing ratios, mechanical advantage of several levels, and LOTS more. My brain is exhausted from it, actually haha but that's not all!

From there, we split up into teams to practice all we had just learned. With such an overwhelming volume of information over the course of the day, though, I must admit I was a bit frazzled and didn't remember everything like I thought I would.

BUT, this being my first EVER exposure to building a 3:1 pulley system using only rope and a few carabiners (and maybe an ascender) all while keeping the "victim" safe from further fall, helping the arresting member of the team to transfer the load of the hanging climber and his gear onto the anchors that we set and equalized ourselves and then hauling him out--I think I did OK. HAHA

Dinner was good... chicken and broccoli in a cream sauce with soup and lots of hot beverages. (Dunno why I wrote that haha)

--and it cleared up enough outside to snap a few really dramatic pictures...

...before it clouded over again. The weather report for tomorrow is promising, and if all pans out like we're hoping, we'll head out for the summit of the Radio Control Tower when we wake. I can still hear the soft ticking of light snowfall on our tent wall, though... but fingers crossed...

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